Doctor Butcher M.D. sounds like a slasher thriller about a doctor who butchers his victims in violent fashion while passing himself off as a normal everyday physician, but it’s really more of a zombie/cannibal film in the popular style of Italian films from the late 1970s like The Mountain of the Cannibal God, Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals, and Zombie. And that makes sense when you take into account the original title of the film, Zombi Holocaust, before production edits were made; while Zombi Holocaust has been the main version of the film for years, Severin Films has provided a double-disc Blu-Ray of both Doctor Butcher M.D. and Zombi Holocaust restored in 2K from original film elements, uncut for the first time. While the differences between both of the films are minuscule (see below), the new edition of Doctor Butcher M.D. is the highlight of this package, and this review will focus specifically on that version of the film.
The film follows Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli), Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch), Susan Kelly (Sherry Buchanan), and George Happer (Peter O’Neal) as they set out to find an island full of cannibals who worship Kito, a god that Lori seems to know a lot about considering her work in anatomy class. Doctor Butcher M.D. initially takes place in New York City, but after cannibals begin stealing and eating body parts from the local morgues, it becomes apparent that these researchers need to enlist the help of Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien) to find why the Kito cannibals seem to be targeting Lori specifically.
Marino Girolami’s film is a bit of a mess, and it certainly shows in the Doctor Butcher M.D. cut of the film, especially because the one-sheet and tagline make little sense when compared to the movie’s content. Despite that, however, Doctor Butcher M.D. is the better-edited film, cutting down a few minutes of footage that add little to the plot; specifically, some walking and driving scenes have been removed for better pacing. There’s also a complete overhaul of Zombi Holocaust‘s soundtrack, adding a synthesizer score that’s a lot more entertaining.
That makes Doctor Butcher M.D. more enjoyable than Zombi Holocaust, and if viewers can overcome some rather lackluster and – to be blunt – horribly muddled plot lines, then there’s actually quite a bit to like about the film itself. Romano Scandariato’s screenplay channels the same themes as better known (and, honestly, better-made) films like Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox, with vaguely racist stereotypes of cannibals attacking innocent victims; these moments highlight the excellent practical effects created by Maurizio Trani, utilizing real pig innards combined with clay and latex props. Doctor Butcher M.D. boasts some authentic visuals, including an autopsy scene, head surgery, and a courter stuck in an unfortunate spike trap. The film is a great Italian nasty, and that’s probably the best reason I can think of to recommend it.
[pullquote]If viewers can overcome some rather lackluster and – to be blunt – horribly muddled plot lines, then there’s actually quite a bit to like about the film itself.[/pullquote]
The story, however, is quite problematic, and Girolami struggles to put all of the film’s subplots into proper context. Doctor Butcher M.D. never manages to properly explore its Kito cannibals, and later in the film, it pits cannibals against real zombies created by Doctor Butcher in a storyline that seems designed to shoehorn Zombie (or Zombi 2, whatever you prefer to call it) designs into this film – they have the same stylization, at the very least. It’s not a satisfactory plot at all, and it all devolves into silliness the further along Doctor Butcher M.D. gets – with Lori finally becoming cannibal queen and deploying the cannibals to eliminate the zombies and Dr. Obrero/Dr. Butcher. Despite its relatively good special effects throughout, there are also some noticeable errors; for example, a scene where a cannibal dives through a window resulting in his demise on the concrete far below clearly shows a dummy smashing into the ground and losing a limb in the process.
Most who appreciate Italian zombie film will enjoy this release from Severin, though, especially because of the inclusion of both feature films. As I stated previously, I believe Doctor Butcher M.D. is the superior cut, but Zombi Holocaust is also a fine representation, reinstated to its full 96-minute length. Neither will disappoint fans of cannibal gore and carnage; however, there are better films in this style. [/cbtab]
[cbtab title=”Video/Audio/Special Features Review”]
Doctor Butcher M.D. is restored from the original negative elements of the film, and it looks fairly good despite some obvious flaws in the negative. There is some healthy grain definition throughout that doesn’t detract from the quality too much, as well as some noticeable film damage. Lines pop up on the sides of the image at times. However, it’s to be expected from a negative that has probably weathered the elements, and one can’t really complain about this fully restored uncut edition of the film. Zombi Holocaust was transferred from the original 16mm film, and it looks quite good as well. Based on the presumed damage to the original sources of the films, I’d say Severin did a great job on this restoration, making it as clean as can be.
Audio is solid as well, especially the Doctor Butcher M.D. English audio track, which truly emphasizes the great synthesizer soundtrack. Zombi Holocaust includes the original Italian audio track, although a lack of English subtitles (on both films) hinders the viewer’s ability to watch and understand the film.
This double-disc Blu-Ray from Severin Films is a complete package, full of content that packs in a few hours of extra goodies. Besides the two different versions of the film, there are a number of featurettes included on both discs. One of the best is a half-hour interview with Aquarius Releasing’s Terry Levine, who documents his time in the grindhouse/adult film industry and 42nd Street era along with his work on Doctor Butcher M.D. A walk down 42nd Street with Chris Pogialli and Roy Frumkes is included, where Frumkes discusses his involvement in that time period as well.
A portion of the unfinished “Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out” is also included, featuring Roy Frumkes’ short with commentary. A featurette on the Butcher Mobile highlights that very odd press junket. Finally, an illustrated essay from Gary Hertz closes out the first disc’s extras.
Onto the second disc, cast and crew interviews add an additional hour of specials. Ian McCulloch documents his time working on Doctor Butcher M.D.; Sherry Buchanan talks about her work on the film, her many experiences in Italian horror film, and how she got into the business in the first place (and why she left); Enzo Castellari gives a history of his father, director Marino Girolami; Maurizio Trani gives a very brief (4 minute) interview about his work on the special effects; Rosario Prestopino gives an interview (before his passing in 2008) about his contribution to the FX; and finally, there’s a brief location-spotting guide, with footage from the film’s New York City setting compared to the same settings today.
This is a stunning number of special features, with many of them covering more ground than just Doctor Butcher M.D./Zombi Holocaust. Besides those video extras, there is reversible cover art with Zombi Holocaust‘s artwork on the back; and if you were one of the first orders, you’ll have snagged a limited edition Doctor Butcher M.D. vomit bag as well. You certainly want to pick up this release with all of these extras, especially if you’re a fan of Italian zombie/cannibal splatter flicks. [/cbtab][/cbtabs]